Mr Mussel was probably a completely harmless and respectable man, but the minds of me and my school friends made him frightening. We told each other to run whenever we saw him riding toward us on his squeaky bicycle. None of us dared whisper his nickname when he was within earshot, but privately we called him “the monster.” What would he have done to us if he had heard? We reckoned that he was at least one hundred and twenty years old. He lived in an ancient house with a leaky thatched roof and mud walls. We knew they were mud because after our monster died, we crept in to examine his lair before it was demolished.
Uttering a derogatory nickname in the presence of an imaginary fiend is one thing, taking a ruler’s title of honor and using it of another person is another. Yet that is exactly what Paul and the early church did. Paul began his letter to the Romans with the subversive title “Jesus Christ our Lord.” “Christ” meant the Jewish “Messiah”; “Lord” was Caesar’s title.
Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom. 1:1-7)
Paul had counted the cost. He figured that the potential punishment for naming another lord was nothing compared to the reward of serving His Savior. God had called Paul to spread his riveting good news around the world, good news about Jesus and His kingdom.
Jesus had a double nature. His human lineage was from King David but He had a divine side too. Paul had met Jesus after His resurrection from the dead. The resurrection proved that Jesus was the Son of God. The Jews could assess the evidence that Jesus was the messianic Son of David; everyone could see that He was divine ruler over all things—including death. Jesus deserved the titles “Christ” and “Lord.”
The Lord Jesus had established a wonderful heavenly kingdom open to subjects from every earthly nation. He never demanded that any nation dissolve or its rulers abdicate; they just had to make room for Him as the ultimate ruler. It sounds conciliatory but in practice, few world powers are willing to accommodate another king. You see, even apparently harmless and reasonable societies embrace philosophies and cherish practices that are at odds with the kingdom of God. Too many things would be displaced by God’s rule. Too much is at stake. Making Jesus Lord is still a subversive thing to do.
At the end of his short introduction, Paul drew his readers (including you) into his message. God also called us and sent us to teach the nations obedience to the standards of the kingdom of God and to promote the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Does the news of the resurrection propel you to be the King’s messenger? Are you convinced that the kingdom of the world has nothing worth clinging to in comparison with life in the kingdom of God?
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